Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Applying the international classification of diseases to perinatal mortality data, South Africa

Tina Lavin, Emma R Allanson, Lee Nedkoff, David B Preen & Robert C Pattinson


To examine the feasibility of applying the International Classification of Diseases-perinatal mortality (ICD-PM) coding to an existing data set in the classification of perinatal deaths.


One author, a researcher with a non-clinical public health background, applied the ICD-PM coding system to South Africa’s national perinatal mortality audit system, the Perinatal Problem Identification Program. The database for this study included all perinatal deaths (n = 26 810), defined as either stillbirths (of birth weight > 1000 g and after 28 weeks of gestation) or early neonatal deaths (age 0–7 days), that occurred between 1 October 2013 and 31 December 2016. A clinical obstetrician verified the coding.


The South African classification system does not include the timing of death; however, under the ICD-PM system, deaths could be classified as antepartum (n = 15 619; 58.2%), intrapartum (n = 3725; 14.0%) or neonatal (n = 7466; 27.8%). Further, the South African classification system linked a maternal condition to only 40.3% (10 802/26 810) of all perinatal deaths; this proportion increased to 68.9% (18 467/26 810) under the ICD-PM system.


The main benefit of using the clinically relevant and user-friendly ICD-PM system was an enhanced understanding of the data, in terms of both timing of death and maternal conditions. We have also demonstrated that it is feasible to convert an existing perinatal mortality classification system to one which is globally comparable and can inform policy-makers internationally.